Fun facts about Carlos Santana as of Monday’s game:
- He right now has the same amount of home runs (23) as he did in all of last season and the third most in his career since 2012
- He has more walks this year (95) than he did last year (88)
- He is only six RBI away from setting a career high (previous was 87 in 2016)
Some not so fun facts about Santana’s season thus far
- He is only four points ahead of his career low in OPS+ (102 in 2015)
- His 10 errors are double his previous worst season at first base (5 in 2014, 2016 and 2017)
It’s been a well worn statement that Santana hasn’t been everything he was billed to be after signing this offseason, so there isn’t really any need to go into it again. What is interesting is that with the Phillies entering their final stretch toward securing a playoff berth, it looks like the version of Carlos Santana that we had wanted all along has finally showed up.
Let’s start by cherry picking some endpoints. On July 31, the team signaled that they believed they were a serious threat to make the playoffs and decided to augment the roster by adding some veteran bats. Carlos Santana, entering that date, had a slash line of .211/.350/.401. Since that game, in which he went two for five, he has hit .283/.352/.504 with seven home runs, 20 RBI, and a 21/14 K/BB ratio. Some of that is due to better luck (a .290 BABIP as compared to a .210 mark prior), but he has also made some adjustments to better give himself a chance at success.
Much was made about Santana’s taking of walks. Sure it’s a good thing, the analysts told us. He’s getting on base and not making outs. That’s all well and good, but even those who consider themselves more analytically inclined know that a batter needs to get some hits every now and then to help buoy his production. Getting those hits means one needs to swing the bat, something it felt like Santana was reluctant to do. The graphs of this certainly back this up, as Santana fell well below the league average of using the bat for its intended use. However, since that July 31 date, Santana seems to have decided, “The heck with it, I’m swinging!”
He has had massive shifts in his swing percentage, but there is a clear change in his approach here. He’s swinging at more pitches, plain and simple. That has led to his contact rate rising as well.
You can see how slightly after game 120, both his swing percentage and his contact percentage are both noticeably increasing. Is that a coincidence? I’m not convinced that it is.
Also interesting is how hard he is hitting the ball since that date as well. Here, I’ve looked at his hard, medium and soft hit ball rates have changed since that July 31 date (which I’ve marked off on the grid). Pardon the shaky hand mouse drawing of a line...
Looks to me like that July 31 date sees a dramatic drop off on his softly hit ball rate and good size jump in both hard- and medium-hit balls. Those are the kinds of balls that are more difficult to catch. Of course, we’d have to account for some bounce back we see recently, but for the most part, we can feel confident that he’s been hitting the ball harder.
Have pitchers been attacking him differently? Well, let’s look at what they’ve been throwing him.
Seems as though all season, pitchers were using breaking balls and offspeed pitches to get Santana out, but he has since gotten better at hitting them, so they are going back to the hard stuff. This jives a bit with his season numbers, as his best month statistically (.281/.373/.584 in May) is when pitchers stopped throwing him fastballs. Baseball being a game of adjustments, it seems as though Carlos has taken a bit longer to make his adjustment back, but he has finally done so. Therefore, pitchers need a new way to get him out. Thus, the chart above.
Carlos Santana has not been worth the contract given to him this year. Perhaps he never will be. But if he can help put the team’s offense on his back and lead them to a playoff berth by continuing to hit the ball well, it might end up being worth it, no matter what happens to his contract after this season is up. For now, let’s just hope he can continue to hit as well as he has been since the trade deadline.